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Horse Racing is older than man. The truth is horses are good at it. The name horse is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word hors, meaning swiftness, and this is a characteristic of the horse upon which its very survival has always depended. The swiftness of horses is alive in both the hearts of horses and in the heart of man and is so much a part of the long association between man and horse that there is no point in our own histories, in any of our ages or cultures, where the speed of horses has not created heroes and captured the imagination.
History informs us that the Greeks introduced horse racing in the Olympic Games of 1450 B.C. It is also said that in 1377 A.D. a race occurred between the horses of Richard II and the Earl of Arundel. Records also exist of racing in the days of Rome when horses pulled chariots.
The development of horse racing in Britain dates from the 1600’s although it is known to have taken place much earlier. However, the sporting behavior of humans being what it is, and with the very survival of the horse being largely based on swiftness, it is no doubt safe to assume that a contest was surely staged the first time two proud riders happened to meet.
Whether it’s to determine the better horse, or racing against time, or over distance, many variations on the theme have been devised, all based on the speed of horses and the thrill humans receive watching the winners come home.
While many types of races involving horses and riders have been devised and are ongoing, when one uses the phrase horse racing, two main types of racing come to mind. There is the running race, whether on track, or grass, or steeplechasing; whether for a quarter mile or over distance. Then there is the harness racing of the trotters and pacers.
The racing of Thoroughbreds has been a major factor in the world of horses and horse industries since its inception in Britain. The earliest report dates from 1074 in a written description of the city of London. It seems every Friday, horses were brought to Smithfield for sale and with a large crowd gathered, these horses, ridden by professionals were raced toward a marker, then returned still at racing speed to pass a grandstand.
In American, the Quarter Horse was developed as a fine racer at the distance of a quarter mile and is now world famous. Yet there are other breeds too the Arabian, and Appaloosa to mention a couple.
In Harness Racing, the American Standardbred (pacers and trotters), the French Trotter, and trotting breeds developed in many countries bring the level of horse racing to something like a national pass time. From horse and buggy days, horse breeds with a penchant for trotting and pacing at speed have been developed as world class racers and continued to be refined and improved. Other than the most famous breeds of the harness racing industries, all with deep infusions of Thoroughbred blood, other breeds are also raced in harness throughout the world.
Many health and supply industries have developed and grown to supplement the success of horse racing, not to mention the breeders, trainers and professional riders and drivers. It is probably safe to say that as long as there are horses in the world, racing will take place and as long as there are humans involved, wagers friendly or otherwise will also occur.
At every level, if distilled to its essence, horse racing is about the pursuit of quality and the striving for excellence. Horse breeders in all societies try to improve breeds for every aspect of racing and sport.
The problems of horse racing are as old as the sport itself, but while the purpose of horse racing is to entertain, it is also to inform, to find the horses who will produce a better horse in the next generation.